Monday’s lovely post by Chuck DeGroat, about how we use words and encouragement to call on our better angels got me thinking about the history of The Twelve and the sort of dialogue that goes on in this space.
In case it ever comes up on Jeopardy, you should know I wrote the first piece on The Twelve. October 31, 2011. (No, not because of Halloween . . . Reformation Day.) My essay was called Do Calvinists Believe in Luck? It was read by at least seventeen people. A couple Facebook friends even commented.
Blogs are curious things—you create content, throw it into cyberspace, and people magically find it. We’ve steadily built an audience and have even had pieces picked up, not only by local papers like the Des Moines Register and Grand Rapids Press, but by the Washington Post. By the time Kate Kooyman debuted with I’m Sick of Appreciating Teachers on May 5, 2016, we had a solid group of readers. Kate’s post took us into the stratosphere with over half a million views, The Twelve’s record. Kate’s post also had 239 comments, another record. Although I have not read every one of them, I am sure they’re all positive. Kate’s title was ironic, and gloriously effective. Her point was we should do much, much more for teachers than the occasional teacher “appreciation” day. Who disagrees with that?
Kate has landed several posts in our all-time readership top ten, and as she’s written more, and let her fierce Christian conscience out, the comments have gone from complimentary to critical. Since I have written occasionally on gun control and, recently, the President’s amoral behavior, I have received plenty of negative comments as well. Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell, who, without credit, is the Ben Bradlee of The Twelve, has observed at times people respond to my posts like I’m wearing a “kick me” sign.
We’ve even had conversations about eliminating the comments option. We’ve stuck with it, though, because we really do want to engage with you.
I rarely respond to negative comments. Most of us rarely respond. It’s not because we want you to think, as John Updike once wrote, that “Gods do not answer letters.” In my case, at least, it’s because I’ve already said what I had to say in the piece. I’m not interested in arguing about it or saying it again, only worse.
But we do read your comments. And, believe it or not, we’re not hardened professional journalists with Teflon exteriors but average people, just like you, with real feelings. The majority of your comments are incisive and helpful, but occasionally something else happens. Here are some thoughts on how our comments could transcend the rancor of our times.
- Agree with us. That never gets old.
- Use this litmus test: would you say what you are saying if we were in a room together?
- Don’t criticize us for expressing opinions. Opinions are the raison d’etre of The Twelve.
- The original Reformed Journal and Perspectives Journal both had long, splendid histories of leaning in a progressive direction. Don’t be angry at us for following in those footsteps.
- Don’t call us names (see number 2).
- A book chapter is not a “comment.”
- Don’t be a bully (see number 2).
- Don’t condescend. Starting your comment with the word “rubbish” sets the wrong tone (see number 2).
- Before you hit send, ask yourself if you might have a blind spot concerning what’s being discussed. Maybe God is using the blog to nudge you. A wise person said to me once that the place you feel resistance is the place you need to grow. Another wise person said to me that anger is an ally. If you’re angry, step back and examine your anger.
One more thing. If you have the gumption to read my first post from way back when (and let’s be honest, it wasn’t exactly Genesis 1), you’ll note I ended it with a question. That’s because we originally imagined the blog would start conversations.
Read the comments from when I proposed the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church merge and you’ll see a fine example of how a conversation was started (warning: if you look there, you’ll see some cogent comments from the late Alan Janssen that will sadly remind you of what a dear and brilliant person we lost to COVID). That post was followed by a few others on the same topic, something else we imagined might happen.
I hate thinking that things have changed radically in just a few years, but nowadays way too many comments are discussion enders rather than enablers. That might be an aspirational goal for this polarized time: Be a conversation-enabler instead of a conversation-ender. (Well, maybe things have changed radically. For example, I can’t imagine the CRC having any interest in merging with the RCA right now. Feel free to comment about that.)
You, our readers, are very smart. And, overwhelmingly, you, our readers, are Christians. Let’s all remember that about each other. There’s no reason our disagreements should mirror the wider culture’s dysfunction. Let’s talk to each other in ways that transcend the cultural moment. Every time our conversation tears down instead of builds up, I hear Jesus saying, “It shall not be so among you.” Let’s be different and talk to each other with that oh so necessary prerequisite to love: respect.